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The first American edition of an English book published in 1964 tells the story of three Oxford students as they follow the trail of Marco Polo across what is now Yugoslavia, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Travelling on motorcycles (later, motorcycle), they track the path of the 13th-century Italian explorer set forth in his widely disbelieved A Description of the World. Their purpose in part was to give credence to the facts that were made to sound dubious by the book's superlatives and poetic imagery. It is extraordinary how much can be found that had stayed the same in the seven centuries between voyages. It is easy to share the excitement of uncovering the natural spring baths that Polo praised. The discoveries of ""bitter bread"" and ""apples of paradise"" show the puzzle coming together elegantly, confirming their route. It is also interesting to see how geographic destiny still defines many of the stops along the way. Severin has since written half a dozen books on travel and exploration, some of which take a similar tack, i.e., following the trails of previous adventurers to understand and corroborate what they saw. As his first, this book has the earmarks of youth: buoyant enthusiasm, wide-eyed delight, loosely speculative and informal scholarship. Travelling through difficult terrain with minimal supplies and experience, the misadventures of the lads is a story in itself, as they communicate without language, are forced to play rough with local yeggs, and generally carve out a small legend as the mad Englishmen on motorcycles. A neat little book for anyone, it also seems the perfect book to enthrall a young reader with a taste for adventure.

Pub Date: May 5th, 1986
Publisher: Bedrick